Survival of The aftermath
There has been much talk and circumspect over the past few weeks about a certain celeb and a certain rumour that she has (has not?) returned to her abusive ex and of course this has lead to an age old question: why would anyone return to an abusive partner?
Whilst the question and the opinions that follow are great titillation for office gossip and relieving the monotony of our mortal everyday lives, lurking in the background is a sinister situation that millions of women – and men – can relate to; that of domestic abuse, how to survive it and how to move forward from the insidious and far reaching consequences domestic abuse has.
For those who have dug down deep and found the long-term strength and determination to leave their abusive partner the fall out begins long after the door has slammed behind them. It begins long after the final insult has been spat in a viscous vitriol of spite and the final bruise has healed. When the door closes for that last time, life closes in and the fear of life in an unknown world begins.
It is that when you are free of the terror and insults that have kept you tightly bound to the person you have longed to escape for so long, that the terror of being free can finally cripple all survival.
For some sufferers of domestic abuse, the damage is too deep, but how?
For many the onset of domestic abuse – and this must include emotional abuse because this is just as damaging – is invisible and often the escalation to physical violence (if there is one) comes after months of slow, lethargic emotional abuse. Emotional abuse that tugs at the heart of insecurities and is so languid in its delivery that it seeps into our subconscious and we begin to believe what we are told; we are not worthy; we should be grateful; we are lucky to have someone – anyone – want us.
It can begin with benign put downs wrapped up as helpful suggestions;
“are you really going out in that?”
“Do you want me to tell the truth or shall I be honest”
“you really don’t know when to stop talking do you? ”
the examples are endless.
The drip-drip effect of sly put-downs has an almost invisible effect – but it does take effect and its a powerful one. Slowly, over time, the confident, independent person you know you are begins to fade. You begin to believe in the cruel put downs.
The game is a powerful one and its designed to reach the inner part of your psyche, rip out your insecurities and pop on the table for all to see. It strips you naked of everything you thought you were and a new person is forced on you.
It begins with small, seemingly helpful suggestions that over time become as damaging as they are benign. A niggling concern that maybe your overweight will be stored away for future use until one day with a smile and a jolly put-down it will be used against you;
“I don’t think you should wear that.”
“I’m not sure you should eat that, it’s fattening.”
These are often followed by an attack on the character;
“People were a little bored, try and think of something interesting to say.”
“I don’t think you should come to this event – you wouldn’t fit in.”
The list is endless and coupled with a withdrawal of intimacy – because they don’t find you ‘attractive’ anymore, and the stage has been set.
These initial stages are all about power. The abuser will find the buttons to push and push them everyday just so they can feel in control; of the person they claim to love.
You see, the perverse thing about domestic abuse is that that it is very rarely about the person on the receiving end; it is about the abuser and the impotence they feel in their own life. By destroying those around them, they feel empowered and dominant but it comes at the cost of others.
There are no barriers, no class divide, no educational vaccine, domestic abuse can happen to any of us, perhaps because at the heart of it is love. Despite the abuse there is an almost ingrained hope that the person we loved is in there, hiding behind a mask of hatred and maybe, just maybe we can reach them and bring them back again. We just have to behave ‘better’ whatever ‘better’ is.
It can take an age to finally accept and then believe that the person we fell in love in, the person we invested all our hopes and dreams in never truly existed, that they were a lie. Because if we believed in a lie, what does that say about our judgement? What does it say about our future judgement, will we make the same mistake? What if the abuser was right all along? What if we are (insert relevant insecurity here)? What if we are unlovable? What if we are overweight? What if we do provoke the insults/fists/kicks? If the ‘what-ifs’ are true – what’s the point of trying again? Maybe it’s best to stick to what we know – a literal ‘better the devil you know’.
And there you have it; the survival of the aftermath.
It ‘s not easy. You have become a shell of the person you once were; where there was once confidence and capability, there is now only self-doubt and fear.
So, perhaps it’s not so difficult to see why people return to abusive partners, or even stay with them. It isn’t that they are weak, or blind, or stupid; they are surviving.
As on-lookers we hope that they will wake up and realise how worthy of a good life they are; but hearing that and believing it are two very different things.
No matter the money, no matter the fame; if adulation cannot come from within, we will seek it where we can – in the moments of love that we think we glimpse in the eyes of the one who breaks our will and our hearts.
What we must not forget is that for a few abusers there is a change. There are programmes aimed at supporting and counselling people with anger problems and for some this works; sometimes there is a way back.
For others – the abuse will continue
There are some fantastic organisations who offer a wealth of support to sufferers and survivors of domestic abuse. They offer support and advice to those in abusive relationships and those who have managed to free themselves. This support is free and accessible to everyone.